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Brooks v. Wilson

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

December 6, 2017

ERIC C. WILSON, Respondent.



         Ashley Terrell Brooks, a federal inmate, filed this 28 U.S.C. § 2241 petition ("§ 2241 Petition, " ECF No. 1). For the reasons set forth below, the § 2241 Petition will be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Brooks pled guilty to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and was sentenced to the mandatory minimum sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act ("ACCA") of 180 months in prison. United States v. Brooks, 296 Fed.Appx. 327, 328 (4th Cir. 2008) . Brooks challenges his enhanced sentence under ACCA.[1] (§ 2241 Pet. 1-2.) Brooks contends that in light of the decisions in United States v. Newbold, 791 F.3d 455 (4th Cir. 2015), and United States v. Simmons, 649 F.3d 237 (4th Cir. 2011), he no longer has three predicate felonies for an ACCA sentence. (Id.) On October 24, 2017, Respondent filed his response and agreed that, in light of Newbold, one of Brooks's prior drug offenses no longer qualifies as "as a 'serious drug offense' predicate for the defendant's ACCA sentence of 15 years." (Resp. 4, ECF No. 8.) Respondent further conceded that Brooks "no longer qualifies under ACCA and his maximum sentence is only 10 years in prison. Because he has already served that amount [of time], the court should order his release from prison." (Id. at 4-5.) In making this concession, Respondent, however, failed to address how, under the established precedent for the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the Court had jurisdiction to grant such relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. Accordingly, by Memorandum Order entered on October 25, 2017, the Court appointed counsel for Brooks and directed the parties to file further briefs with respect to the issue of jurisdiction. The parties have filed the required briefing.

         For the reasons that follow, the Court finds that it lacks jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 to grant Brooks relief.

         II. JURISDICTION UNDER 28 U.S.C. § 2241

         Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, "constrained to exercise only the authority conferred by Article III of the Constitution and affirmatively granted by federal statute." In re Bulldog Trucking, Inc., 147 F.3d 347, 352 (4th Cir. 1998) (citations omitted). Accordingly, a federal court is required, sua sponte, to determine if a valid basis for its jurisdiction exists, "and to dismiss the action if no such ground appears." Id. (citations omitted).

         A motion made pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 "provides the primary means of collateral attack" on the imposition of a federal conviction and sentence, and such a motion must be filed with the sentencing court. Pack v. Yusuff, 218 F.3d 448, 451 (5th Cir. 2000) (quoting Cox v. Warden, Fed. Pet. Ctr., 911 F.2d 1111, 1113 (5th Cir. 1990)) . A federal inmate may not proceed under 2 8 U.S.C. § 2241 unless he or she demonstrates that the remedy afforded by 28 U.S.C. § 2255 "is inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e).[2] "For example, attacks on the execution of a sentence are properly raised in a § 2241 petition." In re Vial, 115 F.3d 1192, 1194 n.5 (4th Cir. 1997) (citing Bradshaw v. Story, 86 F.3d 164, 166 (10th Cir. 1996); Hanahan v. Luther, 693 F.2d 629, 632 n.l (7th Cir. 1982)). Nevertheless, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has emphasized that "the remedy afforded by § 2255 is not rendered inadequate or ineffective merely because an individual has been unable to obtain relief under that provision or because an individual is procedurally barred from filing a § 2255 motion." Id. (citations omitted).

         The Fourth Circuit has stressed that an inmate may proceed under § 2241 to challenge his conviction "in only very limited circumstances." United States v. Poole, 531 F.3d 263, 269 (4th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted). The "controlling test, " id., in the Fourth Circuit is as follows:

[Section] 2255 is inadequate and ineffective to test the legality of a conviction when: (1) at the time of conviction, settled law of this circuit or the Supreme Court established the legality of the conviction; (2) subsequent to the prisoner's direct appeal and first § 2255 motion, the substantive law changed such that the conduct of which the prisoner was convicted is deemed not to be criminal, - and (3) the prisoner cannot satisfy the gatekeeping provisions of § 2255 because the new rule is not one of constitutional law.

In re Jones, 226 F.3d 328, 333-34 (4th Cir. 2000) (emphasis added). The Fourth Circuit formulated this test to provide a remedy for the "fundamental defect presented by a situation in which an individual is incarcerated for conduct that is not criminal but, through no fault of his [or her] own, [he or she] has no source of redress." Id. at 333 n.3 (emphasis added) . The Fourth Circuit has instructed that if a § 2241 petitioner cannot satisfy the test of In re Jones, the "unauthorized habeas motion must be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction." Rice v. Rivera, 617 F.3d 802, 807 (4th Cir. 2010). Brooks obviously cannot satisfy this test, because his conduct of conviction-possession of a firearm by a convicted felon-remains criminal.

         The parties acknowledge that In re Jones remains the controlling test in the Fourth Circuit, but contend that the "fundamental defect" test also embraces circumstances for individuals whose conduct remains criminal, but his or her sentence exceeds the statutory maximum sentence. As explained below, adoption of this view requires a revision of the controlling test in the Fourth Circuit and not merely an interpretation of the binding precedent. See United States v. Surratt, 797 F.3d 240, 248-50 (4th Cir. 2015);[3] Farrow v. Revell, 541 Fed.Appx. 327, 328 (4th Cir. 2013) (citation omitted) (concluding petitioner's "challenge to his armed career criminal status is not cognizable in a § 2241 petition"); see Poole, 531 F.3d at 267 n.7 ("Fourth Circuit precedent has . . . not extended the reach of the savings clause to those petitioners challenging only their sentence." (citing In re Jones, 226 F.3d at 333-34)). In the absence of an intervening decision from the Supreme Court or the Fourth Circuit, such a revision is beyond the power of this Court.

         In re Jones made a "clear limitation . . . that, before the case can be used to invoke § 2255 (e), the law must have changed 'such that the conduct of which the prisoner was convicted is deemed not to be criminal.'" Surratt, 797 F.3d at 248 (quoting In re Jones, 226 F.3d at 334). Citing Carachuri-Rosendo v. Holder, 560 U.S. 563 (2010), Brooks contends that "it is not only logical, but arguably required to describe Mr. Brooks as having been 'convicted' under ACCA. On this understanding Jones applies full force on its own terms, and allows a habeas petition for a claim of actual innocence of the sentencing enhancement." (Reply 3, ECF No. 11.) Surratt raised a similar argument and the Fourth Circuit explained why it was foreclosed by the relevant precedent:

[Surratt] argues that his predicate convictions constitute elements of a separate, aggravated offense for recidivists. If that proved true, we might say that Surratt was not guilty of the prior conviction "element, " and therefore innocent of the recidivist offense. Yet we do not treat a prior conviction "as an element of [the] offense." Almendarez-Torres v. United States, 523 U.S. 224, 247 (1998); see alsoAlley ...

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